Several years ago, I wrote a series of columns called the 5 E’s. It was a look at five things I felt were solutions to the problems facing the black community: Education, Economics, Employment, Ex-offenders, and Excuses (none accepted). I want to revisit one of those solutions: “Excuses (none accepted)” because of a couple of “urban legends” that, every time I hear them mentioned on the radio, I cringe.

The first is “the breakdown of the black family started when they wouldn’t let the man live in the house if the woman was getting welfare” or words to that effect. Now let’s think about that statement. It is often accompanied by a referral to the movie Claudine. Most folks remember the scene where the social worker shows up, and Claudine and her children begin hiding the stuff they have acquired while living off welfare payments. The government’s point of view is that Claudine is living on the taxpayers’ dole and thus if she can afford “A” or “B,” then the need for getting welfare or the amount of welfare she is getting is called into question. Claudine’s point of view is that she is barely making it and the few luxuries she is able to obtain is none of the government’s business. Neither is the person who gave her the extra money or items.

What bothers me most about the statement, “welfare put the man out of the house,” is that the man couldn’t have been much of a man to begin with if he was trying to live off welfare. Remember that the timeframe was in the 1960s and ’70s. The job market was booming and men could make a living doing a variety of work. From jobs at the steel mills to the ones that filled 3-4 sections of the Sunday paper, jobs were plentiful. And a man taking care of his family means there wouldn’t be a need for welfare to do it.

My other pet-peeve urban legend is the one where people state, “If the father was in the house …” which is usually given anytime we have a drama involving young people and claims of them coming from a single mother-headed household. Now let’s be honest. If the daddy were much of a man, there wouldn’t be a “single” mother household from jump street. He would have married his baby’s mama and been the head of the household.

Why am I bringing up those two items? Nothing specific about them except that they highlight tremendously the “excuses” that far too many in the black community make. In 1865 after slavery ended, when the former slaves experienced 100% unemployment, they didn’t sit back and bemoan. They went and did. That type of “forging ahead” attitude and behavior is missing in today’s whiners who know all the excuses but do little to change the conditions.

Each and every one of us is the captain of our ship. We can either sail with the wind or against it, depending on how the wind will make us end up. Each and every one of us can make a pledge to ourselves to be a better person, to learn something new each and every day, to be a contributor to making Austin a better place to live as opposed to being a destroyer. We can act like we have “class” and not like the last three letters of that word. We can create, maintain, and sustain a school environment that allows our future adults to get the education they will need for 2030 and beyond. Each and every one of us can assert that we won’t be the problem and that all problems are fixable when one seeks the solution.

Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

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